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"Dracula" - the Royal Winnipeg Ballet - a Review

Amazing, Chilling

A review by Rosemary Phillips, January 1999

Chilling. Amazing. Stunning. Shocking and yet graceful. Count Dracula, weakened by daylight beaming into the dark castle crypt is trapped by his pursuers. They drive a large stake through his heart and leave him eerily suspended on that stake to die, and thus free the world of his vampire terror.

And so ended a magnificent performance by The Royal Winnipeg Ballet at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo last Thursday evening. Gasps were heard from the audience as the ballet “Dracula” came to a dramatic conclusion, all eyes focused on centre stage and the dying Count, hanging on the stake. As the curtain fell on that spooky scene, and as hands were raised in thunderous applause, we asked the question, "How did they do that?"

Therein lies the magic of theatre, casting its spell from the moment the curtain rises.

Before the curtain rose on “Dracula” my eyes scanned the audience and I saw many up-and-coming ballet dancers accompanied by parents and siblings. Their excitement was obvious. They had been waiting months for this moment. Tickets had been sold out soon after going on sale in September. And rightly so. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet represents excellence in dance, Canada's premier ballet company.
I sat remembering my own feelings of going to my first real ballet performance, “Sleeping Beauty”, with the Royal Ballet in London, England. In my excitement and fear of missing the bus to get to the theatre on time I had started sleepwalking. I was only ten, but the memory of the beauty, drama, and grace will be with me all my life.

And so it will be with “Dracula”, a magnificent memory of dance, combining traditional and contemporary ballet with technical excellence and captivating style. All movement was timely, flowing, and expressive of character needed to tell the lurid story of Count Dracula. We were taken from a sea-side estate in England to the castle in Budapest, following the lives of both those who had fallen under the vampire's influence, and those who were desperate to put an end to him.

Relief from the severity of the vampire story came through intermittent humour in character, and through the comedic pantomime of Act II which illustrated a condensed, very fast paced narration, of Bram Stoker's famous novel, “Dracula”.

The sets and costumes designed by Paul Daigle were simple and startling, and were highlighted by dramatic lighting design by David Morrison. The neutrality of black and beiges accentuated the vivid red of Dracula's cape, and blood. Fabrics flowed softly as dancers glided, flew and gracefully moved through expressive choreography created by Mark Godden to the music of Gustav Mahler.

The seductive, weak, and dying Lucy was magnificently danced by Tara Birtwhistle who managed moves that would normally be considered humanly impossible. Her timing and grace were impeccable. Jesús Corrales danced and carried himself convincingly as the arch-villain Count Dracula. Imagine, if you will, dancers portraying through movement; maids, suitors, a doctor, humorous gargoyles, townspeople, nuns and vampires. Add the pleasure of seeing a chorus of male dancers in the Red Dance of Act II, a break from the standard female-only chorus.

An additional joy was having one of Nanaimo's own, Gail Stefanek, return to her home town and perform in front of family, friends, and future Nanaimo dancers. Her presence and performance was an encouraging example of what a dancer from Nanaimo can accomplish.

What we saw on stage was a company working together, dancing together in complete harmony, each complementing the other, supporting each other. What we saw was true professionalism that a company like Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet can present. And what an experience for Nanaimo.

To have a show sold out so many months ahead can only be a sign that Nanaimo is thirsting for such excellence in performance and art.

Thanks go to TheatreOne for presenting “Dracula”, and to the many sponsors of both the “Dracula” tour of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and, the performance at Nanaimo's Port Theatre.

Originally published in the Nanaimo Daily News.

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